Integrity & Emotional Responsibility

It’s very important, especially when working with others, to develop a strong sense of emotional responsibility. By this, I mean that when people disagree with us, or when life throws us a curve ball, we are able to deal with it from a place of centredness and intention, instead of a purely reactive response derived from past hurt and trauma.

People will disagree with us all the time. This is especially true if you put yourself out there, in the public sphere. What we have to learn to do, as Pagans, is to convey our message responsibly, without seeking to increase the suffering that already exists in the world. What do I mean by that? Well, not everything is sweetness and light, and we do have to come to an understanding of our own shadows, of what places exist in our psyche and our souls that carry deep emotional wounds from previous suffering, but not carry that forward and perpetuate suffering, both in ourselves and in others.

We have to be aware of the manipulations that our culture invests in and regurgitates regularly as “fact”, such as “we live in a dog eat dog world” or the idea that there is some ladder we’re all climbing, and we have to beat others to the top. As Pagans, we look to nature for guidance, and when we do we discover an incredibly beautiful web of shared existence, where things are working together. Looking at a healthy ecosystem, we discover and can be inspired by the way that things work, collectively, rather than competitively. I truly believe that we have placed far too human-centric and capitalistic a view on ecology, with such absurd concepts as “the food chain”. When we work together, we are stronger. It’s as simple as that.

Not everyone will want to be part of that worldview, however, so we have to learn how to deal with this in our lives. Some people are so wounded in our society, and in our Pagan community, that it can be completely random or by design that you suffer from such terrible acts as bullying, trolling, undermining, character assassination and more. Many people now think that blowing out someone else’s flame makes theirs burn brighter, when in fact it does not. Social media makes this a great place to do so anonymously. If we are strong and emotionally responsible, we can respond to such horrid behaviour from a place of integrity. We can stand up for ourselves, without trying to destroy the person or persons involved. We may or may not have a resolution in every situation that is satisfactory, but at least we know that we have acted from a place of sovereignty in our own self.

When we are working as priests or priestesses, it is imperative that we own what is ours, and understand what is not. When people project their wounds on to us, we can realise that this is not ours, and that it is their own wounding that is causing this behaviour. We may not be able to change this behaviour, but we also don’t have to take it to heart and let it ruin us emotionally. If we are truly strong, we can send them compassion in various forms, if possible, or we can simply be compassionate with ourselves if the former is too difficult, and know that this is something that we do not own. Likewise, when we react to people’s behaviour, we have to realise that this may be coming from an emotion or experience that is ours, and ours alone, and that we need to deal with this in order to work with integrity.

We also need to keep the ego in check. We have to be careful with notions of power. I’ve always said that being a Druid is a verb; it’s what you do that counts. If you are working as a Druid priest, or a teacher, you must remember to work with power in a way that is filled with honour and integrity. The renowned author and Pagan activist Starhawk coined three different types of power in her work, which are Power Over, Power With and Power from Within. We have to let go of notions of Power Over, and instead work with the other two, for empowering others is really what working in a Pagan priesthood is all about.

We need to inspire others, first and foremost. May we be the awen.

 

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The Myth of the Moral Highground

Is there such a thing as a moral highground?  I have heard people say that they can accept certain people’s behaviour, on the basis that they “are a better person”.  They have chosen their beliefs in themselves, their faith, whatever, and made a judgement call as to who is a better person.  But then, who is a better person above them? And above them? Isn’t it all about perspective anyway?

Believing that we are better than someone else is a falsity and a tragedy, in my opinion.  It can lead to all sorts of destructive behaviour, from bullying to arrogance to war.  Passing a homeless drug addict in the street – do you believe that you are better than that person? Finding out about someone’s infidelity – does that make you a better person? Working for charities, donating time and money – does that make you a better person?

Do you think Mother Theresa thought she was better than the rest of us by doing what she did? I hardly think so.

We all make mistakes. We all have moments of enlightenment, and moments of dark despair. Our lives have happiness and tragedy in them.  Yet claiming that we are better than someone else is simply to say that our circumstances are better than theirs – and circumstances can change on a dime.  As a noun, the dictionary defines circumstance as “a condition, detail, part, or attribute, with respect to time, place, manner, agent, etc., that accompanies, determines, or modifies a fact or event; a modifying or influencing factor: Do not judge his behaviour without considering every circumstance”.  We cannot even consider every circumstance, for we are in no way omniscient. We could become the homeless drug addict, and then where has the better person gone?

We are all on a level playing field.  The search for a moral highground is like looking for the Holy Grail.  All that each person can do is simply to do the best that they can at any given point in time. Sometimes their best may not be all that “good”, whether the person has had moments of enlightenment or not.  Yet to judge ourselves against others only separates us further from others, which leads to an Us and Them mentality, in which horrendous things can occur such as war.

Surely we need morals to follow, else anarchy would reign?  For the most part, most people naturally want to do “good”.  Morals are constantly changing as well, as are opinions – else women would still be the property of their husbands, African Americans would still be relegated to the back of the bus and Britain would be ruled by the Christian Church. Trying to gain the moral highground on a level playing field just doesn’t work – you’d simply be jumping up and down trying to get above everyone else, and yet gravity would bring you back down each time.

Realising that no one is better than anyone else is the key to living a happier life, for you and everyone around you.  People who think that they are better may fall into destructive patterns.  They may not realise that by blowing out someone else’s candle, it doesn’t make theirs burn all the brighter.

Yet there is nothing wrong with living a life of discipline, and of trying to better oneself – to be more aware of one’s own patterns of behaviour.  If we accept that we are only doing the best we can at this point in time, there’s nothing to say that we can’t do better in the future. But we shouldn’t strive to do or be better than other people.  The work should be done on ourselves, with the realisation that the thinking behind “I am better than her” does not make you better, and can, indeed, make you worse.  It is simply putting one’s self onto a pedestal to gain the moral highground, and anyone can fall off the pedestal easily.  I know that the next time I find myself thinking that, I am going to step off my pedestal and get back to the level playing field, where I can look everyone in the eye and see that we are only doing as we can, and just to do the best that I personally can, which is no better than anyone around me.